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Ben Shapiro's The Right Side of History: easy read, informative, wrong

By Mark Christensen - posted Tuesday, 28 May 2019

I find it annoying when Christians proudly equate their faith with something concrete or definable. Aren't they familiar with their saviour, a man who believed life is infinitely more than what can be seen, smelt or touched? A man who resorted to parables and chastised his disciples for needing a sign, because he knew that faith has no rational grounds. It's an emotional, not cognitive, experience. Seeking to prove what is important, or to have it objectified as dogma, just confirms you haven't a clue.

Ben Shapiro, though an observant Jew, is similarly afflicted.

His favourite Tweet: "Facts don't care about your feelings."


The Right Side of History, the tenth book by the 35-year-old American, is an easy read. Rifling through its chronological stages, Shapiro surveys Western civilisation with two questions in mind: what underpins its incredible achievements and why, after so much toil and suffering, are we now so keen to blow it? The West is "riddled with internal contradictions, communities bereft of values, and individuals bereft of meaning". Something has been lost. And absent a consensus on what that is and how it might be recovered, we're left to "fight harder and more viciously over smaller and smaller matters".

Shapiro is informative in an impatient, I-know-something-you-don't kind of way. His defence of Judeo-Christian values (Jerusalem) and classical Greek thought (Athens) is fortified by apt religious, philosophical and political references, with a dash of popular culture to indicate he isn't a conservative bore. Unfortunately, Faust and God's claim that "man still must err, while he doth strive" doesn't figure in his musings.

The Jewish God, so the story goes, inserted himself into history to bestow upon us the dignity of purpose. Listen up: only the Creator can know why the universe exists. But to help out, here's some general tips on what I'm after. Though be sure not to forget the grand plan is, as I told Job, beyond human conception and logic. In the end, because man is not God, he is obliged to make a leap of faith.

Fair enough, though Shapiro, as with most religious types, doesn't sufficiently explore the ruse with revelation.

Getting the whole of humanity on the same page at the same time, committed to a metaphysical source of meaning and value that transcends everyday reality, is a fraught process. God opting to profane his eternal and indivisible self in order to take corporeal form or violate the laws of nature can certainly be inspirational and thought-provoking. Yet proof of the unprovable and talk of the ineffable also, perversely, tend to encourage materialism and hubris over spirituality. A situation made worse by the need for a distinct group to promote a new post-pagan standard.

The road to eschatological oneness begins with preferential treatment and exclusivity.


Hence the chosen people and the Torah. And the importance, as Shapiro notes, of man having to wrestle with God and the related belief that "the messiah would be a political figure, not primarily a spiritual one".

Jesus brought things to a head, rendering access to God both universal and particular. Our subjective inner world, what we feel, became the locus of salvation, by way of divine grace. Faith no longer had to do with the law, knowledge, tribal identity or even good works. Shapiro quotes the early Christian theologian Tertullian approvingly:

What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic? … After Jesus we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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